“Anything you read can and will be used against you.”
-Any seasoned parent.
It’s been a while since I had a four-year-old at the house. It’s been a while since I walked into a room and felt the punch-gut fear that comes from seeing your oldest make a speedy get-away, smelling of smoke and clad in nothing but whitie-tighties and a cloak of guilt. It’s been a long time since I’ve pulled a smoking pillow or pink blankie from the top of a halogen lamp.
But I still remember the good old days, when the light was hazardous but the books were not.
Now, my kids are reading things they shouldn’t. The bills and alumni magazines piled on my kitchen counter. The books hidden in my closet. Or—most infamously—the copy of How To Negotiate With Kids left carelessly at the top of the bookshelf.
I suspect they’re skillfully applying these things against me, but since I haven’t read the source material, I can’t be sure. And all this mature content just falls from their hands into a giant, ever-growing pile of slush I’d love to read but can’t.
As a dutiful father, I’ve tried to provide kid-appropriate reading alternatives: Alcatraz versus The Evil Librarians, The Hobbit, and Calvin and Hobbes (sigh). But in spite of my redoubled efforts, they still manage to find the dangerous stuff. For example, the other day I caught my youngest reading Safety 24/7.
I’m told that kids like to try out adult stuff sometimes. “Don’t worry about it,” the experts say. “It’s part of growing up.”
Really? Safety primers for heavy industry?
And my nine-year-old daughter didn’t “get bored and put it down.” Does this make anyone else uneasy? When a fourth grader can read and take pleasure in standard-fare management lit, shouldn’t we worry about the intelligence of the American management community? (Or maybe we just need to add more trendy business words to keep kids confused.)
She was still reading Safety 24/7 the next day. I know because she was walking around the house making annoying safety comments. In other words, I basically got to read Safety 24/7 twice, because I’d already read it for work. And I hate doing work twice.
When I took my kids in for an annual doctor’s check-up, the nine-year-old brought Safety 24/7 along for the waiting room. She was already on page 60.
Me: “I didn’t realize you liked that book so much.”
M: “Seriously. You haven’t given up yet. You must be learning something.”
D: “I liked how Kurt got the painter on the ladder to be more safe without saying something that would make the painter mad.”
M: “Anything else?”
D: “I liked how he got people to use the word ‘incident’ instead of ‘accident.’ That way they remembered to have responsibility.”
In this moment I realized we could have our own little safety teaching moment. I pointed to her bare—I blame California—feet.
M: “What about you? Do you know the risks of going barefoot into the
D, grinning: “There’s always more risk this way, but I can mitigate some of
that risk by my increased awareness of the problem.”
Her words, not mine. I should probably be a little more careful about what books I leave lying around.